It was food shopping day today, ugh. Not something I look forward to particularly, but tough, because it has to be done. Our current favourite hypermarché is the new LeClerc at Montluçon, so we merrily set off. We had to call by Collège on the way to deliver Ruadhri’s recorder which he suddenly realised he needed at 07:24:59 this morning, and we have to leave the house by 07:25 to get up the drive to get him on the bus at 07:30. Said recorder wasn’t where it should have been and so couldn’t been found in a crazy last-second search. (I dug it out of its unlikely hiding place almost as soon as we got back to the house, naturally!)
Anyway, we carried on towards the RN145 and were surprised to see a cop car on our way. It’s a rare occasion when you get a glimpse of a gendarme in Creuse. But suddenly we were definitely over-gendarmed. They were everywhere. The next group we saw were talking to a farmer leaning up against a colossal tractor parked in a side road. Then, as we came round the rond-point to take our exit, we found it barred by a row of bollards, backed up by a row of gendarmes. So we had no choice but to take the winding scenic route to the city.
At this point Benj piped up that he’d heard something about an Opération Escargot in Guéret today but hadn’t realised it might be more widespread. Clearly it involved farmers but that was all we could work out at the time.
So, a little grumpily, we had to make do with shopping at Auchan since that was the closest supermarket and we didn’t feel like risking more closed main roads. However, the silver lining to this cloud was that McDo’s is next door to Auchan so clearly it would have been madness not to call there for dinner before heading home. We tuned into the local radio but couldn’t find out much more. We risked taking the RN145 but were forced to leave it ten or so kilometres out of Montluçon and take the old main road home, along with a large assortment of HGVs. The RN145 is one of the relatively few main roads that goes east to west across France and so is always incredibly clogged with lorries of all nationalities: on any quick drive along it, you’ll come across container lorries from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and so on, with the occasional French truck thrown in.
There were plenty of fuzz flying around on motorbikes or zipping by in cars, and a few hanging around at roundabouts, all adding to the intrigue.
When we got home, we hit the internet to solve the mystery. It’s all to do with the ecotaxe, which is a tax on heavy goods vehicles that the French government is introducing in the new year as one of its ‘the polluter pays’ policies. Not surprisingly, the trucking companies are against it as it will push their prices up. However, I can’t really see why they’re that bothered since as usual, all the extra costs will be shunted down the chain to the poor old consumer who has to foot the bill. For reasons best known to themselves, the Jeunes Agriculteurs de Creuse et de Haute-Vienne have got all hot under the collar about the ecotaxe too and they were the ones threatening to block the main road. They were due to trundle their way into Guéret this afternoon, having caused mayhem on the RN145, to have a friendly chat with the Prefect about the ecotaxe. So I guess by keeping traffic off that road, the cops were avoiding total chaos. I just feel sorry for anyone who was massively inconvenienced by this action, or possibly endangered. For whom it was crucial to get to their destination quickly. Having made three fairly panicky trips to hospital in labour, sitting on one or other baby’s head and trying not to notice exactly how many tens of miles over the speed limit Chris was going, I find this idea that it’s OK to bring traffic to a halt for a pointless protest nothing short of wicked. They have no idea what drastic consequences such stupid action could have. There are other more effective ways to protest. I mean, is anyone in government going to care what happened in the vicinity of La Croisière, Nouhant, today. They weren’t there, so no, they won’t give a hoot or a Gallic shrug.
Anyway, one interesting thing that came out of today was discovering what these arrays of cameras are for. They appear over main roads, often near département borders, and I understand they’re part of the electronic toll system that will work out how much goods lorries owe the French government for allowing them to drive on certain French roads (10,000 km of trunk roads and 5,000 of minor roads). HGVs over 3.5 tonnes will have to carry an onboard unit (OBU). This little gizmo which is “an interoperable device comprising an up-to-date GPS system, programmed according to the category of the vehicle. Easy to install, it accurately calculates the amount of eco-tax due based on the distance and roads travelled.” The tax varies from 8.8 centimes per kilometre for a double axle lorry to 15.4 centimes per km for those huge lorries with four axles or more.
And how will all this extra tax revenue be used to benefit the environment? All I can hear is the shuffling of politicians’ feet and vague mutterings. Let’s hope it gets used positively and in a relevant way, although I’m not entirely sure what that might be. But I’ll keep investigating and let you know.
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